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Lessons From Champions: Russians Don’t Miss Squats

Lessons From Champions: Russians Don’t Miss Squats

June 28, 2017

Training | Weightlifting

 

It was a very warm day in late June as I sat and waited for the team from Klokov equipment to arrive in our uncharacteristically quiet gym. This had only been the 2nd time since the gym opened in January of 2015 that we had completely shut down the facility to clients. The first occasion was to host a Weightlifting competition; a last chance qualifier before Nationals, a day which was anything but quiet. We had been contacted a few months before by a woman named Stacy, who was working with Dmitry Klokov, 2008 Olympic silver medalist in the men’s 105kg division in Weightlifting. Dmitry and a few of the former staff of the company Again Faster were launching a new product line, branded with the Russian champion’s name, and they were looking for gyms to do photo shoots in to promote the equipment. Of course I was happy to oblige. Although I’m not one to get excited, especially over “celebrities,” I was looking forward to seeing one of the strongest men on the planet first hand. It was also hard to turn down the publicity of a Weightlifting legend training in my facility.

 


When Mr. Klokov and crew arrived we were quickly introduced to everyone, David, one of the owners of the company, Stacy our contact, and Erica and Patrick, a photographer and videographer, respectively. They wasted no time unloading all of their equipment from their van, and setting up. Dmitry had already done one workout at another gym earlier in the morning and was gearing up for his second of the day. It was hot and the 6’1 112kg(245lb) beast looked a bit tired. “I haven’t trained twice a day for a long time,” he said, “maybe not since 2012.”  For me, 2012 doesn’t seem that long ago. In fact I remember how excited I was to watch Klokov continue his battle from the World Championships in Paris 2011, in London, against fellow Russian Khadzamurat Akkaev, only to be disappointed when both of them pulled out with injury shortly before the opening ceremonies of the games. The next few years brought a lot of speculation of whether or not Dmitry would make a bid for Rio, but now, at 33 years old, his focus clearly was elsewhere, and that meant he’s been more or less retired as a professional athlete for nearly four years. So while double sessions may be commonplace in the insane training protocols we read about in books, I empathized how Klokov’s impressive body could be feeling the effects of such a schedule. “He had a hard day yesterday, and he’s got another hard day tomorrow,” Stacy told us.

If there was one thing that was obvious, however, it was how much the guy just loves what he does. The first thing he did upon entering our gym was walk around and take a look at everything we had. He picked up some different training tools and played around with them, and that’s when he spotted our vertical reach tester. After a quick demo, and an even shorter warm-up, Dmitry gave it a go, hitting an impressive 32″ on his first jump. There are only a few people in our gym that hit over 30″, and they aren’t 245lbs. His next jump he improved by 2″, bringing him to 34. He wanted one more go, and we called him out to hit every vain on the tree. With a full ass to grass squat and a powerful Russian yell, he tagged all but one, clocking a 36″ vertical. Not bad for a guy about to start his 2nd training session of the day. How explosive are Weightlifters? That should answer your question right there, and I’m willing to bet guys in some of the mid-weight classes can clear 40″ or more. Don’t forget, we’re talking about an athlete that’s been retired for 4 years.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BHQExPjjJnM

While we were goofing around with the jumping, the team had been setting up the equipment for the shoot, and told us that Dmitry would be squatting. This excited me as he’s known for his monstrous squats with absurd pauses in the bottom. He was working his way up slowly with the weights when Patrick explained what the plan for the shoot was. “So you’re going to unrack the bar, go down, and then miss the squat, dropping the bar off of your back. Then you’ll rerack the weights, try it again and make it.” Immediately, Dmitry had a concerned look on his face, and his eyes flashed toward David, as if to say “please translate, you want me to miss squat?” David, who had the articulation of an accomplished businessman,  looked slightly at a loss for words. Seeing the obvious vexation on Dmitry’s face, Patrick added “We can fake the weight, it’s not a big deal, I can shoot it so you can’t see how much is actually on the bar.”

Dmitry walked over to a nearby bench and sat down, and the others instinctively followed his lead and drew near in a small circle. “We don’t miss squats in training.” In my head I still remember it with his thick Russian accent, and at the time, I enjoyed a fantasy about it being some secret Russian code, to never, ever miss a squat. I envisioned people making a long trek to the winter prisons in Siberia, banishment for squatting down and not being able to stand back up, bringing shame to your entire family.  But I knew what he really meant: Not just Russians, but Weightlifters, at least, high level Weightlifters. Although it was cool to hear him say it, it really came as no surprise. With the advent of social media, and its impact on the international Weightlifting community, we’ve been privileged to get connected to Weightlifters from all over the world, and one of the fan favorite questions is “What’s your best squat?!” Occasionally people are disappointed though, when they receive answers like “the most I’ve ever done is 300×3” or “I could probably do 350, but I never bothered to try.” There’s a famous tale, that Yuri Vardanyan actually clean & jerked more than his best front squat. While I believe the story to be true, I think it was more a case of he never bothered to try to squat more, and not that he physically couldn’t stand up with the weight in the squat, but some how could in the clean. Either way, the lore highlights an important point, one that was being reinforced by Dmitry right now in front of me: Weightlifters don’t compete in the squat and squats are an accessory to your training, and therefore there is no point in ever pushing them to the point where you might miss. There was no way in hell he was going to be caught on camera missing one, faked or not.

https://www.instagram.com/p/efo59oik5_/

The idea of “checking your ego at the door” is one that is often espoused in many gyms throughout the world, but it’s a lot easier said than done. Most of the clients we coach are not professional athletes, and they all have many different reasons for training, but most are motivated by progress and results, and when you set a new personal best, especially in an exercise like the squat, which is both mentally and physically taxing, it makes you feel damn good. But it comes at a cost. If there is one thing I’ve learned about Weightlifting, it’s that speed and positions are just about everything, and if you start allowing yourself to squat slow, and way out of position, they aren’t going to do much for your training, especially if you do percentage based work. If you barely made a rep, and your back was so rounded it looked more like a good morning than anything else, then when your program calls for you to do 70% for 10 reps, all 10 are likely to be slow and ugly, because if you had stopped as soon as your bar speed dropped at all, or your posture broke down even the slightest bit, your max would probably be 5-15kg less. That means that 70% is really more like 80% of your best “good squat” and now you’re expected to do 10 of them. Buckle up, you’re probably gonna die.

It may seem counterintuitive, but as the weight loss saying often goes “eat more, weigh less,” the same is regularly true with strength training. Lift less now to lift more later on. Afterall, training is all about adaptation. If you train your body to move fast and precisely, that’s what you’ll always do. if you allow your training to be slow, and out of position, that is the pattern you will revert to when times get tough.  I can speak from personal experience on this one. I’ve always been a strong squatter, and while I probably never even came to close to my maximal potential, I’ve always enjoyed being able to squat just about anything I want, whenever I want, and I honestly can’t remember the last time I missed a squat. I was probably around 15 or 16 years old. People like to point out “that’s because you didn’t push yourself enough,” but those people usually also squat less than I do. What it really comes down to is knowing yourself, and your limits, and knowing when enough is enough. It’s very obvious to me that these elite athletes know that very well. There is a point of diminishing returns with the weight, where you risk injury, or just building bad habits, without a whole of to gain even if you make it out alive.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BHR8wfrjg-C

After the quick training lesson, the Americans looked at each other, and Patrick said, “Well it doesn’t have to be the squat, what about…push press?” Dmitry sat back and thought for a moment. “Sometimes in push press you push and,” he made a motion with his arms as if he was struggling to lock a bar out over head “then you drop the bar. So okay. Push press.” He continued his warm-up, now with push presses instead of squatting, without ever changing the weight on the bar. When it came time to film the miss, there was 190kg(418lbs) on the barbell, and Dmitry stopped just before unracking the weight, he looked at Patrick and said “how long do you want me to hold it?” raising his arms to about the halfway point of a rep. Everyone laughed at the ridiculousness of the question, but we all knew he wasn’t joking.

https://www.facebook.com/klokovequipment/videos/vb.211481822553128/1322897017747743

Regarding the equipment, Klokov equipment was kind enough to gift us a barbell for use of our gym and our time, which we’ve been very happy with. We’ll be releasing a full video review of the bar soon. If you’d like your own Klokov barbell, you can purchase their products via their website or on amazon.